Should air traffic control be made independent of the FAA?

A controversial amendment to the FAA budget bill would separate the air traffic control system from the agency and put it in the hands of an independent board.

The House Transportation Committee approved the measure 33-26 – a vote that broke down largely along party lines. 

The air traffic control system has come under fire for failing to modernize its computer systems quickly enough.  The new system is already over budget and has been delayed several years.

The Hill:

“The AIRR [Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization] Act provides the transformational reform necessary to bring our antiquated air traffic system into the modern era, and allow America to lead the world again in aviation,” said Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation committee.  

“The Committee considered approximately 75 amendments during today’s meeting, and more than half of them were approved," Shuster continued. "Today’s open process led to many improvements to the legislation, and I look forward to moving ahead.”

Democrats on the panel fiercely resisted the proposal to separate air traffic control from the FAA, arguing that setting up a new organization would amount to a privatization of the nation's aviation system.

"Despite the many positive reforms included in this bill that will support a strong aviation system and its workers, I remain concerned about the proposal to hand over our airspace to private control," said Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.). 

"Running a science experiment with the most complex airspace in the world comes with a lot of risk, including the uncertain futures of thousands of workers at FAA," he continued.

The proposal to separate air traffic control from the FAA is included in a funding measure that would spend about $17 billion per year on the agency over the first three years while the independent air traffic control organization is being set up. Federal aviation spending would then drop to approximately $6 billion annually over the final three years to cover non-air traffic control functions at the FAA.

The measure calls for the creation of a new flight navigation organization that would be managed by a board of directors composed of aviation industry representatives. 

Major airlines that have pushed for more control of the air system would have four of 11 seats on the proposed board, stoking fears they would have too much power.

I think the Democrats' fears are unfounded, at least where it counts: safety.  If an independent board can make the system more efficient by cutting employees, that's a plus in my book. 

Does giving airlines a third of the votes on the board risk the safety of the flying public?  No, but it risks reducing the power of public unions and their friends in Congress.  The only reason to oppose making air traffic control independent of government control is that favored constutuencies who depend on government for their largesse would be harmed.

That's reason enough to go ahead with the plan.

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